Monday 31 May 2021

Question on the "Hanson's Too Bad All Buckinghamshire Harness Brooch" for PAS

Let us see what this reveals. An error report, a pretty basic error when it comes to archaeological photography:

There are no scales in any of the photos. Can you tell us the name of the photographer and the date this series of photos was taken? Were they taken in house by the Portable Antiquities Scheme? If not, where were they taken? They seem to be the ones used in "The Searcher". Have PAS staff seen any photos of the state of the object before cleaning and restoration? Thanks

Paul Barford

Sunday 30 May 2021

History Channel Films US No-Questions-Asked Antiquities Deal in Progress

On the so-called "History Chanel" show Pawn Stars: "Major Money for Super Rare Loot". The first part of this video is about the purchase of a collection of Viking objects that the seller ("James") who walks into a shop to flog got from "a buddy in England" that he "trades with". No mention here of the Treasure process, or seeing the export licence for any of it. I've no idea who the US "expert" is who has the swords for sale, note his use of the term "Baltic Viking". This video has been up about a month now, and received 1,797,475 views, and over 1500 comments. Yet as far as I can see no comment on the legal aspects of this. Fixed. 
If the Viking objects were from England, the gold armlet at least would have needed to be reported under the 1996 Treasure Act, and if disclaimed, documented as such. It would also need an export licence to remove it from the UK legally. The artefacts euphemistically referred to as "Baltic Viking" will have come from the Baltic states (or NW Russia), all countries that have legislation concerning the excavation and private appropriation and export of archaeological material. No mention is made by either the seller or buyer of any paperwork, and none is shown being examined by the buyer at the time of purchase. This gives the impression that nobody in the US involved in this programme is at all concerned by the legal status of the objects that we see changing hands for money - whether the programme is depicting them being filmed carelessly fencing looted and smuggled artefacts or not. We'd be interested to know the nature of the material the seller is "trading with" the British dealer in order to obtain these items, and whether they too are moved across national borders without any legitimising paperwork.

Note how the shopkeeper selected only a few of the items from this assemblage for purchase and selling on further obliterating their collecting history as part of the assemblage middleman "James" had created. What happened to the rest? This is what most of the deals on the US antiquities market look like, the artefacts and the information they have/had are subservient to how much money can be made out of them, and by attributing catchy labels to them ("


UK will Carry on "Saving Archaeological Treasures" Despite Everything

In the UK, Brexit and university cutbacks are fuelling a crisis in recruitment of skilled workers (Dalya Alberge, 'Help our profession or UK’s shared history will be lost, say archaeologists', Guardian Sun 30 May 2021. And here is part of the problem:
A government spokesman said: “We know that our archaeological treasures are irreplaceable and we are determined to protect them. Our planning reforms will build on the strong protections already in place. Our deal with the EU means archaeologists can make short trips to the UK without work permits, and their qualifications will be recognised.”
For this government spokesperson, archaeology is just digging up old things, treasures. And whose fault is it that a UK government spokesman has this impression?

Friday 28 May 2021

EBay.UK Abolishes "British Antiquities" Sales


UK has now abolished sales of antiquities on its platform. This means that this obscures the volume of UK-metal detected antiquities passing daily through the site.  There used to be a subsection section in "antiques" that was called "antiquities" and within that were categories such as "Roman", Greek", "Egyptian" but also "British" (among others). Which makes sense if you are a British collector looking for objects from your country. If you applied the filter "UK dealers only", you got a measure of the volume of the material passing through eBay straight from the ground (very few people listing these items reported that they had been recorded by the PAS).

The listings and filters have been reorganised and it seems you cannot now access these figures (eBay is deliberately constructed in such a way as to hinder any kind of information collecting). So the old blog posts here where I have done that may be one of the few records of that, I should try to archive them.  


Wednesday 26 May 2021

Antiquities Prêt-à-porter: Antiquities Sold by US Department Stores

.   .                                                     
Online event: Judith Barr (Getty): Antiquities Prêt-à-porter. The sale of Ancient Artworks in American Department Stores
From Los Angeles to Pittsburgh, St. Louis to Washington D.C., Americans in the mid-1960s could view and purchase ancient Mediterranean artefacts in a surprising setting: their local May Company department store. This talk will present a little-known transcontinental sale of antiquities, situating it within the broader landscape of marketing ancient art through department stores and the ways in which these artworks were displayed, sold, and dispersed.

Monday 24 May 2021

New FLO Responds Honestly to Detectorists

Unrolled Twitter thread from the New Berkshire FLO. A rather refreshingly honest take by an FLO that goes beyond what the vast majority of the other 40 largely jobsworth Finds Liaison Officers would actually write out publicly:

"I had a few points in response to my Insta post about the Ryedale Hoard which are worth discussing again.  
"Do you think more people might donate to museums if, as a matter of course sometimes, our" treasure finds" which sometimes take years to go through the process, to them be bought for a paltry sum by a local museum to end up in a drawer somewhere and never be seen again?... ...

I for one am very reluctant... many more people would see my finds displayed in my home than they would hidden in a drawer as something not good enough to make the main collection... just saying"

A lot to unpack here.
1) So if finds went on display more would people donate? Maybe. But that is if money wasn't a driving factor as well. As much as people like to say it is about the history, if that were the case these objects wouldn't end up at auction at all.
2) Is the time it takes a factor? Again maybe. However, the treasure process is misunderstood. It also suffers from in the same way as other businesses where someone dissatisfied will tell 10-20 times more people than if they had a good experience. So there are far more complaints about a huge coin hoard that takes over a year than the posy rings processed in 4 months (most of that time is waiting the alloted time to hear back from the landowner and local museums). The process takes a long time because 1) there are multiple people involved who have other parts to their day job, 2) acquisition committees, treasure committees and inquests can only meet so often, 3) In 2019 alone there were over 1300 treasure cases. So a single FLO might get an average of around 33 in a year, so nearly 3 per month (some areas are busier than others) there is a limited number of curators for each period to check, add to and approve reports. Some objects are also complex and take time to research. As FLOs we can receive the equivalent of multiple small site assemblages per month. So one person might bring a couple of finds and wonder why they take so long, but they might forget about the person who was in before who deposited 50 objects.
3) A paltry sum? Again I thought it was about the history? The sum offered is based on market value, which like, anything fluctuates, over time. In the vast majority of cases the TVC agree with the valuation and in some cases it has been increased.
The minutes of the TVC meetings are freely available on the PAS website… The significant problem here is the perception of the archaeological record as a place for financial gain than historical enquiry and something to be privately possessed. The minutes of the Treasure valuation committee are published retrospectively here
4) Objects are just hidden away in drawers. This is a huge misconception about museums as they are often changing displays and use objects kept in the archive. Most museums have a permanent display, usually based on local history, to represent the local area which takes up space. Having finds in a museum also means they can be researched. Being in a private collection limits this and the number of people who can see them. No one is able to show finds to more people in a home than in a museum.
Even if it were the case for one home, imagine how many private residences you would have to visit to see multiple objects. This is especially true for objects from rallies that disappear in different directions and lose the context of being together in the same display.
If people collect more and more then at some point there will need to be, like museums, a rationalisation of a collection of what can and can't be displayed. The difference is that a museum space is given over to displays.
A home has a living room, a kitchen, bedrooms, a bathroom or two (I really hope people don't keep finds in their bathroom). There is only so much space in a home which is a space inhabited by multiple people with different wants and needs for that space.
Also, in a private collection they are not available for XRF, residue analysis, X-ray, conservation, etc. These take people with training and the right materials to perform. In a musrum we can know more about them for when they do go on display.
It feels like much of this should go without saying. I had a detectorist last week say that since he was a kid he imagined having a find on display in the British Museum. To me that is a good attitude to have, but objects are more than something to put in a case to show off.
They are history, they are people, they are stories. The Indiana Jones line "It belongs in a museum" is often used about these significant finds, but it needs to be understood that being in a museum is more than display.
It is being able to research and understand objects in context. This is not about elitism or an us vs. them attitude. It is about working together with specialists to get the most out of an objects history for all to enjoy.
It is often said that detectorists save objects which could be damaged by ploughing. However, what is the point of "saving" an object if it just gets shut in a cabinet in someone's living room? What happens when someone becomes disinterested with a collection?
If metal detecting becomes more and more about collecting and selling stuff and less about the history it is no different than grand tourists of the 17th-18th century visiting distant counties, plundering ancient sites and putting it in their own homes.
This is not to say metal detecting does not have its place, but it goes beyond the saving of finds from the plough. "
Here's a novel idea, why don't the FLOs all engage in actual discussion with artefact collectors?

Saturday 22 May 2021

UK Archaeology Teaching and Research at University of Chester Under Threat

    Archaeology neglect in Chester  

Chester University's Department of Archaeology, alongside other subject areas there, is currently facing closure. This coincides with a host of cuts in archaeology at other UK Higher education institutes, including Aston, London South Bank, Leicester and the world-renowned Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. On the blog of Prof. Howard Williams is an interesting text relating to this: 'Archaeorant: Is there a future for the past?' (May 22, 2021). It makes sobering reading:
What was also chilling was an explicit claim by senior management that they regarded archaeology and heritage as oppositional to future-looking universities. This is truly shockingly ignorant and displays a fundamental lack of understanding of our academic disciplines.[...] National economic circumstances, political machinations and the COVID pandemic have clearly combined to create this enthusiasm among select senior managements of UK HEIs to slash quality teaching and research into the human past and its significances and values in today’s world. Let’s be clear: it’s a ‘hostile environment’ towards the critical investigation of the human past. 

In Today's World, Everything has a Value, but Values go out of the Window


Over 30 percent of the world’s nearly 1,500 cactus species are threatened with extinction. Unscrupulous collection is the primary driver of that decline, affecting almost half of imperilled species (Rachel Nuwer, 'Global Cactus Traffickers Are Cleaning Out the Deserts' Times,  May 20, 2021). Just the same as the trashing of the archaeological record under the noses of acquiescent archaeologists. 

Vignette: Cactus hunting without destruction 

Brexity Dumbdown and Fobboff in UK Museum over Antiquities Trade


Derby Museums has a policy of replying to queries within 28 days (Museums' Trustees, please note, not good enough). So it was, I am sure only coincidentally, the day after the next Hanson's sale with the "car-boot-sale harness mount" that looks a bit like the harness brooch I was enquiring about (Query about Museum Engagement with Item from Hanson's Artefact Sale 25th February 2021 PACHI Friday, 23 April 2021), that I got something that the Museums apparently consider is a reply. Possibly Brexity England is now a place where any old fluff will do to fob off the Museums' usual uncritical public. The problem is if you write a reply that in its brevity  in two places completely contradicts the actual 'record' made in your own museum, some people (understandably) will not just swallow the fluff, and suspect you have either just not adequately prepared yourself to answer the questions (which is just disrespectful), or you are hiding something. 

I think there is a point of principle here, nobody likes being fobbed off. Since Mr Butler has presumed to cite the Museums Association's somewhat sketchy Code of Ethics to me, I'll cite it back: 

[...] This places museums in an important position of trust in relation to their audiences [...] Museums must make sound ethical judgements in all areas of work in order to maintain this trust [...] Museums and those who work in and with them should: [...] treat everyone equally, with honesty and respect, provide and generate accurate information for and with the public, support freedom of speech and debate
We can hardly debate the relationships between Derby Museums and those involved in the antiquities trade without accurate information on just what that has involved, for example in the case of the DENO database entry about this controversial harness brooch.

Watch this space. 

I really do not understand why within days of these issues being raised before the February 25th sale, those involved, Derby Museums, the Derby and Notts FLO, the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the British Museum  did not immediately clarify (together with Hanson's auctioneers and its staff) the whole situation here. Three months on, and the sale of another very similar mount, we still have a story full of holes.  Why, when all of these entities should be governed by the principle of transparency? Does not the public have a right to know just how much they can "trust" what is happening to their archaeological heritage? 

Friday 21 May 2021

Intelligence Test Needed for Metal Detector Licences

Southampton tekkie "not in it fer th' munny" of course. 

When licencing is introduced for artefact hunting, it should be subject to intelligence tests. In Southampton, terrified families were evacuated earlier on this week from their homes as Army sets up 50-metre cordon after an idiot metal detectorist tries to sell a live WWII German bomb on eBay. 'How long before someone is killed because of this irresponsible behaviour?" ask We Dig Heritage. The British experience of the Second World War is very different from the Polish, here, every year at least one metal detectorist dies during interaction with unstable WW2 munitions. Sadly, including one of my former students. This is of course one more reason to introduce a permit system, cutting down the public damage done by artefact hunting.


Thursday 20 May 2021

Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield

"The Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield has been under review and three options are being actively considered by the University Executive Board, with a decision to be made on Tuesday next week. These are:
1. To support and invest in the Department.
2. To close the Department, with all staff made redundant.
3. To retain archaeology as a sub-discipline but not as a department. Two key areas of perceived ‘strength’ (encompassing approximately four staff) to be realigned to other cognate departments. All the remaining staff to be made redundant.

The Department staff feel that the key findings presented by the Deputy Vice Chancellor to them were stacked against Option 1.

Options 2 and 3 will effectively mean the end of archaeology at Sheffield and the loss of decades of experience, expertise and promotion of the field, to say nothing of the livelihoods of staff. They are therefore asking for our support in any way you feel you can, in the very limited window of opportunity that there is to still influence the decision.


If you would like to provide your individual support there is an online petition at:

which would welcome your signature.."

Licking Dog Hoard

Penny Coombe and Martin Henig The Gloucester Hoard of Roman Bronze. Britannia, 51, 225-264. doi:10.1017/S0068113X20000501
Abstract A cache of Roman copper-alloy fragments was discovered, apparently carefully layered in a pit, in a field in Gloucestershire by metal-detectorists in 2017. The assemblage comprises over 5 kg of metal pieces, predominantly box fittings, but also smaller items of personal use such as a fourth-century belt buckle, a three-strand bracelet, a spoon and a coin (a nummus of Crispus). Most remarkable are the sculptural fragments, including several pieces of life-size statuary and the complete statuette of a dog with fine incised decoration, and part of an incised bronze inscription panel. This article considers the original form of the statuary and the use and deposition of the cache. It is proposed that these fragments represent the remains of the accoutrements of a temple or shrine in the local area, perhaps dedicated to Diana Venatrix, and that they were removed and deposited together in the late fourth century. Supplementary material is available online ( and comprises additional figures.
I do not know how anyone who sees/saw the video of these clowns 'excavating' this group of objects (and where's the 'sword" they say they found?) can say there is any evidence of "layering". In a field in Gloucestershire really is no information that allows us to make any meaning from "a temple or shrine in the local area". Why is there "supplementary material" if these is a PAS report (not referenced in the bibliography)? Does this mean that the PAS report is not actually sufficient preservation by documentation by itself?

Collectors Preserving the Past, Except when they Don't

We often hear from artefact collectors that they are "saving" the artefacts they collect, including from getting into the hands of the Brown Skinned Folk of the source countries that clearly cannot be trusted (because 'brown') to look after their own heritage. Here's the story of two collectors whose paths crossed. Sadly the second is unnamed ('Worcestershire detectorist finds stolen treasures on first hunt' - BBC News). A metal detector owner took his metal detector out for the first time on 7th May and had been out in a field in Polfields Coppice, near Malvern, for two hours when his machine "went crazy". Two of the usual tropes there in one sentence.
Novice Charles Cartwright, 43, found nearly 300 historic items buried in a field in Worcestershire. At first he thought he had struck lucky with an incredible find - but an Aldi carrier bag they were in raised suspicions. He later discovered they had been stolen from Shropshire in 2017. The rightful owner, an avid collector who wanted to remain anonymous, had resigned himself to never seeing the treasures again. [...] [three inches down, he] saw a large silver jug, so I uncovered that, lifted it it out and it weighed a hell of a lot because it was full of water. "Inside the jug was an Aldi plastic bag and inside that was the other 271 items." He said the find had been "exhilarating" but seeing the plastic bag had made him realise "this isn't quite right" and he contacted the police. The items, which West Mercia Police said are worth more than £5,000, also included Egyptian relics, medieval and Bronze Age pieces. [...] The owner, a lifelong antiques and antiquities collector, said the items had been taken when his home in Ludlow was broken into four years ago.
I suspect that three inches down means he's searching pasture that had been undisturbed at least four years. Those Egyptian relics can't have been in a very good condition after being soaked in water all that time. The photos are very poor, these artefacts dont impress much, just off the edge of one photo is what seems to be a cruddy shabti, not very convincing if it is... but an interesting story, and drawing attention to what happens to the artefacts in these scattered private collections/
hat tip Hougenai

Impossible Title


You go to a motorbike show organised in the grounds of the local orphanage, the ticket money goes towards looking after the kids. You decide to buy one, pay the cash, drive off on a shiny new green bike. Eighteen months later you decide to buy a red one with a bigger engine. But there's a problem, you've not got the documents for it showing you have title. The organiser of the event has  a blanket agreement that all deals done on the premises are legal and binding. But the man who wants to buy the green bike is worried about accepting that, as he was not a participant of the show, and the document does not cover him at all. Well, that was a bit stupid then, wasn't it? Seen on a mertal detecting forum near you:

Post by Jagtor » Tue Aug 18, 2020 10:22 am
For any thinking of attending paid for digs just make sure the organiser has written agreements in place as to the ownership of finds and above what value finds are to shared with the landowner. Worth looking at “Let’s-Go-Digging” as to how it should be done.
Is that the same as "below what value you don't need an export licence legally to send archaeological artefacts out of the country"? I think that in fact most metal detectorists selling dugup coins and whatpot to US buyers don't pay much attention to either issue of legality. A document in the Rally Organiser's pocket does NOT give Baz Thugwit title to an artefact he's just walked off with. Neither can he export archaeological finds without a UK export licence. Lex dura, maybe, sed lex. There are millions of improperly-obtained artefacts in personal collections, and who actually cares? It's probably why this issue is tucked away in a corner of the PAS website where... oh, hang on...



Wednesday 19 May 2021

What do Archaeologists do?


The Times wants me to pay to read the rest of this (Mark Bridge, Great Army of Viking warriors used Northumbria camp to launch raids on Picts' The Times May 20 2021).

A massive camp of the Viking Great Army discovered on a Northumbrian hilltop is the first physical evidence for chroniclers’ accounts of raids by the commander Halfdan against the Picts, experts say. The 49-hectare site in the Coquet Valley was identified by archaeologists after metal detectorists reported numerous finds of gaming counters, coins and other artefacts typical of Viking encampments. According to excavators the discovery appears to confirm written accounts that say that, when the Great Army split into two forces after its conquest of Mercia, an army under Halfdan ravaged the territories of the Picts and the Britons of Strathclyde, in today’s Scotland and Cumbria, in 875AD. Dr Jane Kershaw, the archaeo...
. It's not very enticing. It seems it's saying that 'archaeology' exists to illustrate what the written records say, to provide something physical to gawp at, fleshing out the picture, while paying rapt attention to the words of some medieval monastic chronicler. And it's "metal detectorists" that found the things that produced the story that archaeologists then went along and "found more things" to show we can believe it. Kershaws 2013 book on 'Viking identities: Scandinavian jewellery in England' is very object-centric, based mainly on discussing isolated metal-detected finds in the PAS database.

It seems to me as more and more university boards decide whether or not to drop teaching archaeology (shockingly, Sheffield in the news today), we really have not done a great job in promoting public awareness of the values that make it more, hopefully much more, than just "digging up old things" and padding out what we already know from the historical records. Is what the rest of the Times article (written by their 'historical correspondent) does?

A Matter of Concern for Reputable Antiquities Dealers


Hanson's "Historica" Auction is tomorrow. A few days ago (Asking the Dealer PACHI 15th May 2021) I alerted a reputable auctioneer to an area where his description of one lot (Lot 3 "Greek arrowheads") was a little short of the mark. It'd probably been written by his metal detectorist sidekick, who possibly knows the bottom of a pint glass better than the archaeology of the Pontic region. Anyhow, it seems in the UK at the moment, it is considered perfectly good manners not to acknowledge receipt of, or reply to, an email from the Continent. "A bow tie and blazer a gentleman doth not make" as Nanny used to say. Anyhow, I gave it a second try:

Dear Mr Hanson,
I am a bit disappointed that, as a reputable auctioneer, you have not responded over the matter of the concerns raised about the allegedly “Greek” arrowheads (Lot 3) that you have scheduled for sale tomorrow. As I pointed out on the 15th, these are a very common type of looted find from southeastern Europe, and a “dealer’s ticket” is not an export licence, any more than a Hanson’s catalogue entry. Will the sale be going ahead despite this?

Disappointed by the gap between the assurances you gave when you set out to sell dugup archaeological artefacts and the way they seem not actually to be reflected in your company’s business practice. Thank you
Paul Barford

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Stolen Roman frescoes returned to Pompeii after Investigation

Collectors in the future will not thank people with artefacts now that can't be bothered with keeping the documentation. If the police come knocking and they can't show that they have title to an object in their collection, they may lose it. Six fragments of Roman frescoes have been returned to Pompeii, some after being illegally trafficked in the 1970s (Angela Giuffrida Stolen Roman frescoes returned to Pompeii after investigation Guardian 18 May 2021)

Six fragments of wall frescoes stolen from the ruins of ancient Roman villas have been returned to Pompeii’s archaeological park, after an investigation by Italy’s cultural protection police squad. Three of the relics, which date back to the first century AD, are believed to have been cut off the walls of two Roman villas in Stabiae, a historical site close to the main Pompeii excavations, in the 1970s before being exported illegally. [...] Police found the relics during a broader investigation into the illicit trafficking of archaeological objects in 2020 and discovered that they had been bought by American, Swiss and English antique dealers in the 1990s.
The dealers were unnamed. caveat emptor.

Grave Looting in Darkest England. Hanson's Will Take the Haul off yer Hands (No Need Responsibly to Record it First)


Photomontage using material from Hanson's auction catalogue*

Hanson's Historica Auction  in a few days, lots 98 to 110 looks like somebody's emptied grave goods from an Anglo-Saxon cemetery straight onto the market ("not in the grave-robbing fer th' munny"). Not a single one of these items visited the FLO's office in the rush to flog them off. There is no mention in the "descriptions" of where these items are from or what each of them was found with, the only references cited are a metal detectorist's "Noddy Book of British Artefacts" (not even the PAS finds guide published a few years back).

There is also (Lot 103) a matching pair of saucer brooches, which almost certainly were hoiked out of a female burial, no PAS involvement here either:

A pair of Anglo-Saxon saucer brooches. A very fine matching pair of chip-carved and gilded saucer brooches found together near Evesham, Worcestershire c.1992. The front faces have extensive geometric pseudo-basketwork decoration and much of the original gilding survives. 5th - 6th century AD. Cf. Hammond 'British Artefacts (vol. 1) fig. 41mm, 28.3g and 42mm, 21.8g.
Where is Derby Museum's Michelle Ray when you need her, eh?

Hanson's of course not been averse to making money from products of grave robbery and desecration of human remains in the past

* Image © Hanson' Limited, fair use for purposes of comment or criticism for non-profit educational purposes.

Two "Scummy Snakes" Found Among the UK's Grabby Treasure Hunters


With its usual lack of grammar, the commercial artefact hunting company "Let's go Digging" is telling its members that they "caught" ("the") two members of stakeholder organisations who were  looking over their shoulders in the public interest. They are congratulating themselves. Guys, you may try to do all your "not in it fer th' munny" "responsibule detectink" behind closed doors on a dark web of your own manufacture. But be sure, you are being watched. Oh yes. 

LGD your "success" is everybody else's loss, and one day you will be called to account. 

'Getting you lot out on the treasure'.....

Oh, so not the history then?

And who would willingly belong to a group that is so aware of the wrong it is doing that they cannot show their face in public?

(and are the hoikers really sure that IF Heritage Action had someone in there watching and listening while they discussed how they were going to pocket Britain's archaeological heritage, that they got the right guys, and got all of them? Probably safer to delete membership of anyone that can spell

Sunday 16 May 2021

Gold and Silver Found in Darkest Essex: All-out War With Conservationists Mooted

              Neil Barlow (left, landowner             
absent) presents something.

Detectorist's attitude to conservationists:
Paul Lgd Howard Lets Go Digging Nationwide Metal Detecting Events 54 m.
Smashing it at Essex new permission, 2 gold and loads of silver LGD

Julian Evan-Hart 20 m
BRILLIANT STUFF -Well done for organising and GOOD LUCK to all attending
Best Jules. 

Neil Barlow 11 m
Julian Evan-Hart[,] your [sic] mentioned in dispatches today on Heritage Action [sic - he means "Heritage Journal"]. I think you need to use your publication to fight back at these grandiose and over entitled plebs once and for all.
So do we all, look forward to the response by "Treasure Hunter Magazine" to the points grassroots (pleb) heritage organisation Heritage Action make about artefact hunting. 

Bring it on hoiker mastermind, start an all-out war with conservationists, show the British public (in a tekkie  publication on many newsstands) exactly who you are and what you stand for. 

Pandora V

A large part of the no-questions-asked antiquities trade is in the hands of organised criminal groups. Authorities seized in 2020 nearly 60,000 illegally trafficked cultural artefacts at European border checkpoints, arrested 67 suspects and opened more than 300 investigations in the fifth edition of Operation Pandora ( David Klein, 'European Authorities Crack Down on Illegal Antiquities Trafficking Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project 15 May 2021).
Running between 1 June and 31 October 2020, “Pandora V” saw the involvement of customs and law enforcement authorities from 31 countries. Officers carried out tens of thousands of checks and controls in various airports, ports, border crossing points, as well as in auction houses, museums and private houses, Europol revealed in a statement. The operation was launched in 2016 with the aim to dismantle criminal networks involved in cultural theft and exploitation, and identify potential links to other criminal activities. In the 2020 operation, over 27,000 artifacts were seized thanks to a single investigation by French customs. Spanish authorities also seized nearly 8,000 cultural goods, including archaeological artefacts, coins, sculptures, statues, weapons, paintings and sound, film and photography archives worth over US$10 million. Another 12,000 artifacts which were headed towards the black market were intercepted in Greece.
The goods seized as part of operation Pandora V represented a range of different cultures across centuries, but as usual, authorities werre more concerned with trumpeting their 'success' than actually informing us about the origins of the goods and how they came to be sold on the black market and by whom specifically. The culprits were often discovered by (they say) "online monitoring of dark web marketplaces", yet most of this trade goes on entirely in the open.
Althoug seizures were significant, according to Sam Hardy, a Rome-based criminologist who researches the Illegal antiquities trade, they only show what more needs to be done to combat the crime. “Cultural property crime is an exceptionally difficult crime to police.” Hardy told OCCRP on Friday. “Yet these international collaborations, now under the leadership of Spain's Civil Guard and with the support of Europol, Interpol and the WCO, show that it is possible to police this crime.” “Each of these operations has been a success that should be congratulated, but each has also been a reminder that much more success could be achieved if every country took it as seriously,” he said. The illegal antiquities trade is a multi-billion dollar global industry, according to a 2018 report by Standard Chartered Bank, and it’s beneficiaries are not just high society art aficionados. Often on the supply side, the trade is a major funding source for criminal and militant groups. The looting of cultural property from active war zones is considered a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention. Combatting antiquities trafficking “isn't ‘only’ a matter of recovering the cultural assets of victimised societies,” Hardy added. “This trafficking connects with other crimes and contributes to the economic and political insecurity of those societies.”

For Brexited Metal Detectorists Now Visiting France

For metal detectorists that voted for Brexit (and those few who did not) if you want to go to France, this is what non EU citizens have to do now. Oh and leave your metal detectors at home, unless you are willing to do another documents-run to get the permit to do it legally.

Saturday 15 May 2021

EBay Finally Abolishes Antiquities Sales

This appeared on the Yahoo Ancient Artifacts (sic) Discussion list a while back


Due to public concerns and controversy, eBay has taken the decision to
close the Antiquities category with effect from Monday, April 12, 2010.
This decision will affect eBay users in all countries. In addition,
eBay will no longer allow the listing of items deemed to be antiquities
(over 500 years old) in any other category and any listing found to be
in breach of the ruling will be removed.

We hope you continue to enjoy the eBay experience.

John Gretz
Senior Counsel
eBay Inc.
At the time, this was an April Fool joke, but... on 11th May this year - "What is eBay doing?" Note that the collectors and dealers on that forums are so fixated on their own narrow interests that some of them see this as a reaction to the number of complaints they were getting about fake antiquities. In fact, as they soon ascertained, the "antiquities" section has been abolished (see discussion here too).  All that actually seems to be happening is that eBay is at last putting its own policies into action (US version, UK version) which brings it into line with what they'd done in Europe several years earlier.

The actual effects of this policy are variable. It has not stopped the listing of antiquities. Now antiquities are being listed under "decorative collectables", Most things sold as "antiquities" on EBay belong in this category, fakes masquerading as "cool" artefacts for interior decoration. But in the case of those artefacts that actually do have paperwork defining them as legally-obtained and exported genuine artefacts, that fact is not going to be advertised because that would expose them as being listed in the wrong category.  Listing them under  "other antiques" will no doubt hinder buyers searching for them, as they are among maps and other crap. Hopefully this will bring the prices reached down because specialised collectors are not going to wade through a sea of irrelevant material and dealers will go out of business. Also what a comedown for antiquities dealers pretending to be erudite connoisseurs, bordering on the edges of scholarship - now they are pedlars of decorative collectables for interior decoration. The same goes for all those collectors who pretended to be "avocational scholars" and the suchlike, they are now buying decorative geegaws. 

But of course eBay being ebay, dugup ancient and medieval coins are unaffected, and still on sale as before, in their tens of thousands. The same goes for lithic items from the North American continent (probably because they are treated as "natural history" and "ethnographic" specimens rather than looted archaeological evidence. 

Is is good to see in this most public of fora, the selling of antiquities relegated to the same class as the sale of human remains, bits of endangered species, narcotics and sexual services. 

An Auctioneer's Assurances Hit Reality

Apparently a celebrity in the UK

I was forwarded this correspondence back in July 2016 and use it with the permission of the sender. This was just after a certain auctioneer announcing he was going into the antiquities business and was looking for metal ("not in it fer the munny") detected artefacts to flog off. A heritage activist wrote to him:
From: Charles Hanson [...]>
To: Nigel Swift [...]>
Sent: Fri, 29 Jul 2016 13:44
Subject: From Charles Hanson
Dear Mr Swift
We will certainly be taking due care as you outline below
At present the sale is only in its infancy and will be hopefully inviting consignments in due course
I appreciate your email

Yours sincerely
Charles Hanson
I assume one can't do punctuation on a Blackberry.
From: Nigel Swift 
Sent: Friday, July 29, 2016 14:01
To: Charles Hanson
Subject: Re: From Charles Hanson
Many thanks for your response. Hopefully you won't be offered or accept any metal detecting finds that don't include both PAS documentation and landowners' consents.
Reassurance, quick as a flash:
From: Charles Hanson
To: Nigel Swift [...]
Sent: Fri, 29 Jul 2016 14:02
Subject: Re: From Charles Hanson
I certainly won't Mr Swift
All the best
Charles Hanson
On seeing that, my single-word response to Nigel back then turned out totally prophetic. Of Mr Hanson's 200 lots of metal detected artefacts, and umpteen dugup ancient coins up for sale next week, it is rather the minority that had been reported to PAS before Mr Hanson accepted them for sale, and if somebody sees even one there where the sales offer indicates that a copy of the protocol transferring title by the landowner is available to the buyer, please let me know.

"Describing" the Ampleforth "Hoard"

 Hanson's and their metal detectorist cataloguer went to town on this one. The text is more or less that which appeared in 'The searcher'magazine June 2021 issue pp.20-23, so there's a paper copy. Lot 14: The Ryedale Ritual Bronzes. A unique assemblage of Roman ritual artefacts from Yorkshire. My guess is that in metal detector school they do not have lessons in essay writing. Even in Cambridge First Certificate English (level B2), students are expected to be able to prepare a piece of written work in specific formats. One of them is "magazine article". What we see presented as a description of an assemblage of metal objects on sale by a "reputable" (?) English auction house falls far below that standard. Let us take Hanson's "Description" (1148 words) and extract the actual description of what is the object of the sale:
Consisting of a large bust, a horse and rider figurine, a zoomorphic knife handle and a pendulum [...]
Bust The 130mm high bronze bust, with its flamboyant hair and curly, forked beard appears to represent Marcus Aurelius[...] The bust is hollow, cast using the lost wax method and very finely modelled. Although the portrait is somewhat stylised, with large almond-shaped eyes [...] The back of the head has a hinged plate [dimensions?] which opens like a trap door to reveal the interior [dimensions?] [...] [Mars figure has weight given, this has not, shoddy and inconsistent]
Mars statuette. A cast bronze figurine of a rider on horseback, probably representing the God Mars [why?]. The horse and rider are well modelled, the horse harness with attached phalerae and reins clearly visible, though the latter are broken. Mars, wearing a helmet, short-sleeved tunic and pleated skirt, belted at the waist, sits astride the horse with his right arm raised to hold a spear. The left arm is held in front, bent at the elbow and the simple form of the forearm indicates it would have been held behind a shield, hidden from view. No traces of a shield were found in the hoard and it is possible that this was made from organic material. The horse has its right foreleg raised and the other legs have small pegs on the base of the hooves, indicating that the figurine would have been fixed into a plinth.[...] 86.8mm high. 222g.
Knife handle. A solid bronze knife handle in the form of a horse protome (the foreparts of a horse) [duh, but not just of horses, eh?]. The horse is well modelled with its front legs outstretched and head forward, as though leaping. [weightless?]
Pendulum/plumb bob. A large bronze conical plumb bob or pendulum measuring 72mm long, 40mm diameter and weighing 282g. The top is decorated with concentric circles and at the centre is a mushroom-shaped projection, which is pierced both vertically and horizontally for attachment to a line. [...]
That's it. The rest is narrativisation, based on the assumption that this was a single deposit and was ritual in function. The assumption continues: "almost certainly represents a set of ritual equipment, buried as one deposit in the closing decades of the second century AD either at, or very close to, a rural temple or shrine site" Where is the evidence of that? What else has been found on this site to warrant such a leap in the dark? The same way is treated the details of discovery:
In May 2020 [so right in the middle of lockdown, eh? PMB], approximately 20 miles north of York, the Roman city of Eboracum, two friends Mark Didlick and James Spark unearthed an amazing assemblage of Roman bronze-work [...] almost certainly represents a set of ritual equipment, buried as one deposit [...] The find was taken to York museum where it was recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, reference number: YORYM-870B0E. Under current legislation this find did not fulfil the criteria to qualify as ‘Treasure’ so the hoard was returned to the finders [and landowner, eh? PMB].
And that's it. Now read how the PAS wrote it. No "trapdoor" and "flaming lamps to make the eyes come alive" [bust is too small to get one in, innit] No "Mars is on his horse", the knife handle is a key handle. Note how in the Hanson's account the utilitarian plumb bob has been turned into a New2 Agey "pendulum". The PAS account ends: "It may be possible to test these conjectures further if fuller context information becomes available". That's it "conjectures", additional to their description, not "almost certain" where interpretation is hopelessly muddled with description (a typical novice's mistake). And the context, as the PAS say is absolutely totally missing. Missing. The hoard, however, is from Ampleforth, not "Ryedale": Hanson's to Sell Ampleforth Hoard PACHI 23rd April 2021; 'Value of a Discovery' PACHI 28th April 2021. Have the detecting pals stumbled on a real temple site there, with lots of coins and other treasures that they will now proceed to empty onto the market?

* Image © Hanson' Limited, fair use for purposes of comment or criticism for non-profit educational purposes.

No Comment Necessary.

This is about heritage too, people and heritage:
9.3 million people want to squeeze 5.2 million people out of their homeland, basically. What would you do? What is "Holy" about the Holy Land and those who see it as such, but stand idly by watching? 

Asking the Dealer [UPDATED]

Thought I'd write to him. Why don't you too?
Lot 3 the “Greek” arrowheads, how do you know they are “Greek”? As your cataloguer should know, very similar items were used right across the Pontic region and deep into the steppes, they are looted from sites in Bulgaria, Ukraine, right into Russia [For example]. How does a “dealer’s ticket” establish that they were legally obtained (actually a criminal offence in all three countries I mentioned) and legally exported – a “dealer’s ticket” is not an export licence. Where do you get the “date” from? Archaeologically excavated examples come from a much wider date range, were these recovered from a dateable context? And if so, why does your description, such as it is, not state that?
When you started these antiquities sales several years ago, you assured me, and others, that you would be applying the highest standards. Yet what we see in terms of accuracy and fullness of descriptions, and documenting collecting history, at Hanson’s is at a far lower level than even eBay (I am thinking here of the continental eBay portals that have strict standards about these things). Surely, you can do, and afford, better.
Yours sincerely
Paul Barford
Do you reckon I'll get a reply? There are 200 lots of metal antiquities. I think one could ask the same questions of almost any of them, the descriptions are so offhand. I rather think if just 200 of the UK's 6000 archaeologists wrote to him each about just three of these items, perhaps this seller would get the idea that flogging off bits of the record of the past like potatoes is not as "easy" a money-spinner as he thought and start to pay a little more attention to documentation and proper descriptions. Will we find two hundred archies willing to stick their necks out and spend five minutes tapping out a question or two? Actually, from what I see of the jobsworth British archaeological "community", I doubt that. They might write to ask about the one they're interested in publishing. And this is why the antiquities market gets away with acting as if its still the nineteenth century. "All that is needed for evil and injustice (read: "bad practice") to prosper is for good people to remain silent", as they say...

Sunday 23rd May 2021
Still no reply from the auction house. Arrowheads sold for 85 quid, on their way to their happy buyer (can get the same thing on eBay direct from the metal detectorist in Ukraine much cheaper, who'd no doubt be happy to write out a dealer's ticket if asked).

Hanson's Flogs off Harness Mount - Forgets to Say Where from


Corroded harness mount*
Readers may remember that I discussed this story, described by Miguel Ángel Fuster Aparicio the object's stated finder as "unbelievable": Questions About Surfacing of Another Champleve Enamelled Harness Mount at Hanson's (PACHI Sunday, 2 May 2021). Now Hanson's has it up on sale,  and the catalogue entry omits any mention at all about its provenance. Why actually is that? LOT 13 Celtic enamelled harness mount. A late Iron Age bronze 'Eared' mount from a horse harness. This object is very similar in style and state of preservation as the one said to be from Buckinghamshire that the FLO there did not see before it was flogged off and Mr Hanson hurriedly got the local Derby PAS office to get it recorded for him at the last minute (in fact she copied out the catalogue description). This one comes with a back story that figured greatly in the pre-sale publicity, but did not make it to the catalogue:

Celtic enamelled harness mount. A late Iron Age bronze 'Eared' mount from a horse harness. The front face of the mount has champleve enamel decoration, the main elements of which are two opposed crescents of red enamel. Each crescent contains a la tene style scrolling foliate motif with terminals in the form of petals and three roundels inlaid with blue glass. There are four further areas of red enamel and two perforations of identical shape. The enamel inlay is complimented by finely engraved curvelinear decoration. On the reverse are a pair of rectangular loops for attachment to the straps. This style of decoration is seen on two other examples from South-East England, from London and from Kent. CF. British Museum object number 1856,0701.998 The overall form of the mount resembles a facing animal mask, hidden zoomorphic and anthropomorphic elements are often incorporated into late Iron Age art. Condition: glossy patina on the front face with almost all the enamel intact. Some nibbling to the edges around the periphery otherwise vey fine condition. Circa mid 1st century BC - mid 1st century AD. 83mm x 64mm, 60.2g. References: Jope, E M, Early Celtic Art in the British Isles: plate 297 a-e; Megaw, R & V, Celtic Art: Plate I.

I am showing here  the back of this object, drawing attention to the band of different corrosion between the two loops. This means the object was most likely buried still on the harness and the decay of the leather led to the metal corroding differentially at the point of contact. this is evidence that instead of being a loose find of a single object, this item was recovered by somebody (Miguel Ángel Fuster Aparicio not excluded) from either a grave or a hoard. If the latter, the object should have been submitted for consideration as treasure  (group of prehistoric metal objects found together). It's not a lot better if this was hoiked from a horse burial. 

Where is the document from the landowner where this find was made assigning title to the finder? Without it, this object cannot be shown to be the product of legal artefact hunting, and the fact that something like this was not proudly shown to the FLO or entered on a database like UKDFD would incline us to the suspicion that the finder did not have the legal permission to be on that land and disposed of it anonymously (whence, if Mr Hanson's tale is true, it ended up equally anonymously in a car boot sale). I think at the very least Miguel Ángel Fuster Aparicio needs to be questioned about this. 

* Image © Hanson' Limited, fair use for purposes of comment or criticism for non-profit educational purposes.

Hanson's Two-day May 2021 "Historica" Sale: Metal Objects and Crusties

arrowheads, but from where?*
As we leave lockdown, a large number of metal detector finds on sale here by Derby Museums' pal, auctioneer Charles Hanson. Has a tekkie just died and his heirs selling off the objects minus the documentation? That's no way to treat the archaeological record.

Among them are some things sneaked in that have a different origin. Like Lot3: ""Greek Arrow Heads. Circa 1st-3rd century B.C. A selection of tri- finned and socketed ancient bronze arrow-heads. Accompanied by an old dealers ticket". Greek arrowheads are not found in the UK, arrowheads don't have "fins" (that's what you get when you have a metal detectorist writing your catalogue) "Old dealer's ticket" is not a provenance, items like this are found over wider area than "Greece", for example could have been looted on Black Sea coast or on the steppes, this is a totally insecure and negligent provenance. Who cares, eh? This auctioneer apparently has no qualms about flogging them, no-questions-asked.

Fibula, but from where?*
Lot 4 in the same sale is:
 "A one piece penannular type [sic] brooch that originated from what is now Italy [...] Ref: Hattatt, p.285. fig. 199. Accompanied by an old dealers ticket.". Well, quite obviously the picture does not show a penannular brooch, that's what you get when you ask a metal detectorist to write ytour catalogue descriptions. A load of bollocks. An old dealer's ticket that says nothing (on the bit we see) about origins and collecting history means nothing. It's not an Italian export licence is it? And of course everyone looking at this online will know what "Ref: Hattatt, p.285. fig. 199" means, for example which of that author's three volumes of the catalogue of his own collection is actually being used. And by the way, look how that label string "just happens to" obscure the bulk of the spring in the single view presented. Now look at the corrosion of the catchplate and the portion of spin that actually appears to touch it. Now anyone who's dug up real artefacts, and knows a bit about corrosion processes (there are some of us) is immediately going to suspect that the seller here is hiding the information you'd need to ascertain whether that pin is a modern replacement. Of course such suspicions could be allayed by actually presenting an image that shows the whole of the object and the text accompanying it specifically mentioned this point (which at the time of writing the "description" [sic] does not). Most dugup fibulae on the market, even those looted from graves, have had their pins replaced. Mr Hanson's example looks very odd.  I personally would not buy from a dealer that is not up front about such things. Would you? 

After about 200 artefacts, we get to the coins, a lot to question here too. The descriptions are scantier than informative about the things that matter when handling dug-up antiquities. This auctioneer when he started announced he was going to apply the highest standards, and look what we've got. And how many British archaeologists are even bothering to look and comment on this (apart from the ones that see bits they'd like to write up for their own research)? Pathetic.

This one caught my eye. when I started this blog, enormous quantities (quite literally tonnes) of material were coming out of Bulgarian looting - with its suspected mafia ties. In those days, "crusties",  bulk lots of uncleaned ancient coins were coming out of the country by the container load and being sold in by the kilogramme. Today, if you look, those dealers have mostly gone out of business and bulk lots on eBay are more often counted out ("twenty Late Roman bronzes for only ....$"). Because the metal detecting bastards in Bulgaria and Serbia etc have emptied all the accessible sites and equally unscrupulous dealers have sold the lot anonymously and the coins themselves scattered, or ended up in a skip.

Crusties and grots, but from where?

But what's this here on sale by Mr Hanson? Some of these coins are cleaned, others "crusty". Is this material from one English metal detectorist? I can only see one mintmark (Conob) which is no help, the auctioneer and his metal detectorist pal dismissively do not describe what they're handling beyond vaguely saying: "Group of 50 roman bronze coins, mostly 3rd-4th century AD" from God knows where, who cares, eh? But they are in noticeably different states (why?) and for all the world look to me like the rejects from a "zapper's" Balkan looted coins bulk buy would look. Are they? The auctioneer does not give any info about place (or even country) of finding, let alone evidence that the landowner or anyone else gave the finder title to them.  And he should. Mintmarks and provenances please. As for "mostly third ... century", how's that then? Which ones are the third century ones? More dealer's bollocks. 

Come on, we can do better than this. Instead of shoving up a description that took all of twenty seconds to write, these sales should be presenting the full (and true) information about the goods being offered. 

Frozen hamburgers come with more information on what the product consists of and where it comes from, who packaged it than this crap. It's time for the antiquities market to catch up with the trading standards offered by other commodities. The nineteenth century and its colonial attitudes to other people's culture and heritage surely ended a long while ago,

* Image © Hanson' Limited, fair use for purposes of comment or criticism for non-profit educational purposes.

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